Serving a defamation notice on the PTI (Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf or Pakistan Movement for Justice party) Chairman, Imran Khan, for “leveling baseless allegations” against him and the judiciary, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry threatened civil and criminal proceedings “in accordance with the law, both inside and outside the jurisdiction of Pakistan, if unconditional apology is not tendered by you,” the notice claimed in damages, “a token sum of Rs 15 billion only; and another Rs 5 billion only as damages for mental agonies, torture, harassment, humiliation, etc., caused to me as well as my family.”
The former Chief Justice (SJ) of the Supreme Court (SC) said that he was seeking legal recourse “because he believed strongly that our country should be governed by the rule of law and that his hard-earned reputation must remain protected.” His exact words indicting Imran Khan, “Adventurers like you who casually assault the reputations of innocents for gaining political mileage must not be allowed to get away with impunity.” The former CJ “generously” promised, “I may withdraw my claim if you willingly tender an unconditional apology or you agree to pay the damages as quantified hereinabove within a period of fourteen (14) days.”
Defendants in any libel case will first attempt to demolish the credibility of the complainant. Those aggrieved by the former CJ’s arrogant behavior presiding imperiously over the Supreme Court will have a field day exploiting the former CJ’s faultlines and that of his son (and Achilles Heel), Dr Arsalan Iftikhar. Holier-than-thou Arsalan who keeps mum about the taxes that the one-man enquiry commission appointed by the SC, Federal Ombudsman Dr Shoaib Suddle, said he should pay, is seeking to disqualify Imran under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution because of his alleged love child. Levied before without success earlier this is meant more to raise muck rather than obtain any legal conclusion. A lot more muck will be thrown by either side. The hidden cheerleaders for the former CJ busy mobilizing political and media support against the PTI leader may be hoping to benefit by his being subjected to adverse media cynosure, unfortunately the person of the former CJ and the superior judiciary (inadvertently) will also be put in the dock of public opinion. In functioning democracies the rule of law is paramount and yet defamation is difficult to prove, for the record no defamation case at this level has ever been successful in Pakistan where the rule of law is almost non-existent.
QB VII is the standard abbreviation for the “Queen’s Bench seven” court house in London. Published in 1970 by Leon Uris, the facts in “QBVII” are loosely based on an actual libel action brought against Leon Uris by Dr Wladislaw Dering, a Polish physician who worked at Auschwitz, for his novel “Exodus”. The lawsuit and trial was documented in ‘Auschwitz in England’ by Barristers Mavis M. Hill and Norman Williams in 1965.
“QB VII” is centered on Dr Sir Adam Kelno. Pressed into service by the Nazis as Head Physician in a Concentration Camp, he was rescued by the Russians near the end of World War II from a Nazi prison camp. Communist Poland demanded his extradition for war crimes, accusing him of performing several thousand surgeries on his fellow Jewish prisoners. Kelno was set free when the Polish request was denied. Describing the Holocaust, Abraham Cady, a flying ace during the war who later became a novelist, included a portion about Kelno being a prison-doctor collaborating with the Nazis in conducting medical experiments on the interned Jews. His book cited “fifteen thousand” people as subject of surgery without anesthesia by Dr. Kelno, Abraham Cady and the publishing house are both sued for libel. Kelno demanded a trial, damages, a public apology and changes to the book to retract the damaging statement.
At first Dr Kelno is staunchly defended in court for his alleged collaboration with the Nazis. As more evidence comes to light about his ghastly medical experiments, his past is exposed before the public and instead of being the accuser, Dr Kelno becomes the accused. The jury found for the plaintiff in the actual event. In the book Dr Kelno was awarded a “half-penny” in damages, the lowest amount that could be levied, the smallest British coin at the time. “QB VII” actually indicted the plaintiff in public perception for collaborating with the Nazis, the defendant is guilty of only a minor exaggeration. While Dr Kelno won the case on technical grounds but in awarding him damages amounting to the lowest coin in the realm, the jury censored him on moral grounds.
A libel suit is very much like a rape case, it invariably puts the petitioner himself (or herself) in the dock. With the defendant casting aspersion on his (or her) credibility makes it double jeopardy for both the petitioner and the defendant. The unwarranted public cynosure leads to an open season on the rape victim and a matter of deep embarrassment and shame. In effect, she is virtually “raped” again in the court of cynical public perception.
Ironically the analogy of the former CJ’s defamation initiative is the same as the Pandora’s Box opened by (General Pervez) Musharraf and his generals trying to railroad him out-of-office. The former CJ’s similarly defamation is a double-edged sword, not good either for him or for the country. Because of the internet “brand” vilification, even if the facts are without substance, it will become viral in public perception in no time at all.
In the best case scenario for the former CJ, even if he wins the case on technical legal grounds, he would in the process damage his own reputation and that of the institution he presided over. On moral grounds this battle has strong political overtones which damages the atmosphere in our country when so many more important problems are on the cards.
As the defendant said in QB VII before the verdict is read, “Nobody’s going to win this trial; we’re all losers.”
The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org